Saturday, October 13, 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

One of those silly online quizzes. I am...

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Try it yourself here.

UPDATE: Obviously their html doesn't work too well. You are ranked in each of the categories listed above. While the percentages aren't visible, they are listed from highest to lowest, so my highest category was "Obsessive/Compulsive Bookworm." Sounds about right.


A former Army interrogator writes about some of his experiences including the slippery slope to torture and the need to understand our enemy rather than simply demonizing them.

Nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks, we've succeeded in killing a lot of people. We've invaded two countries, captured thousands of terrorists, and set up new, democratic-style governments in place of the dictatorships we ousted. It has been an incredibly therapeutic six years -- at least it felt good at the beginning -- but it hasn't been effective at stopping or even slowing terrorism.

The people who decide our counterterrorism strategy are far better informed than I, but I suspect that, when we are successful, it will be because we recognize our enemies as human and develop plans that recognize their humanity. We need to be tough, and we shouldn't back down from a fight, but we also need to learn that empathy can be as powerful a weapon as missiles.

I wish more of our leaders in the White House, Congress and the Courts would think like this. And act on it.


Steven Pinker is a well-known psychologist who has done a lot of research in linguistics. Over at The New Republic, he has a fascinating article on swearing, why we do it, its history, censorship, and so on. I have always been interested in why some people make such a big deal out of it. I do not swear frequently, and I try to be careful about who is around when I do, but I have never found it personally offensive. As Pinker mentions in his article, I wouldn't want to take away all of the power of swearing by making it mundane and commonplace thereby losing something from our language, a way to stress something or express great emotion. At the same time, I do think some people make too big a deal out of it.

The Search for Self

At least this guy tried. Most people don't seem to get that far.

The Car Woes Continue

Readers may recall that I was having a lot of difficulty with my car a couple of months ago and two different shops could not figure out the problem. Mysteriously it went away and has run fairly well since then.

Alas, my respite is over and my car is now acting up again. I noticed over the last two days that is has been idling roughly. Last night, after eating dinner at Olive Garden with my mother and daughters, the car did not want to start unless I revved the gas. It felt rough all the way home and by the time we got there, it was smoking profusely from the exhaust. I tried to start it again an hour later. It wouldn't unless I revved it and then I got a huge plume of smoke from the back end. Needless to say I didn't drive it anywhere and now, once again, I have transportation issues to figure out.

I wonder if I have offended the car gods in some manner. Perhaps a sacrifice of some sort is in order to appease them and let them end their punishment of me.

Speaking Too Soon

I recently wrote about my excitement in sharing some of my favorite books with my daughters including the Dragonlance Chronicles. They have really been enjoying it and I've been thrilled that they haven't been preaching to me about the evils of books and movies with gasp, the horror...magic.

Well, it seems that horse has reared its head again. At dinner tonight, Erica told me that she did not want to continue reading those books because she realized she "wasn't setting a good example" of being a Christian, that the books are "evil," and she has a "strong feeling" God doesn't want her reading them. After some prodding, she admitted that this came about because she told their grandmother, Lisa, why they were late coming home last week (just one more chapter, Dad?) and she flipped out. Yes, she is my ex-mother-in-law, but she is genuinely mentally disturbed. Despite the verbal abuse my daughters take from her (a short time before this discussion, Erica told me about wanting to shake Lisa), they believed her (it's reinforced with their mother and church, too) and realized that, yes, fantasy novels are a tool of the Devil to lead people astray and into the pits of Hell.

I'm amazed sometimes that I am able to remain calm during these situations and not shout, "Think about what you are really saying!" but I do. I just question my daughters and force them to articulate exactly how they feel about the books. Why are they evil? Other than reading these books and believing something different from you, have you seen my, your father, doing anything evil? If you have free will, how can a book give you bad thoughts and make you evil? What, exactly, is a "good" Christian? Does your mom, grandmother, or church give you a reasoned argument for why these books are evil or is it just "they are because we said so?" Why is this fiction bad, but other types are not?

Of course, my daughters cannot give any good answers for questions like these. I know that, but I force them to really think about it. Erica was crying by the time we were done, but she did admit she liked the book before Lisa said anything to her. I was hoping our talk would be enough to convince them to read tonight, but they didn't want to, at least not Dragonlance. These battle are so wearying mentally, but I can't, won't, give up on my daughters. I owe them that.

Another Trek Flick

So, J.J. Abrams is delivering his take on the Trek universe next year. Apparently many fans are cautiously optimistic. I'm a little more ambivalent.

On one hand, I do think that the characters, especially the Holy Trinity (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) are iconic enough that they have transcended their portrayals by Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelly. I don't have a problem with revisiting these characters. On the other hand, I don't think that a movie is the place to do it. Part of it is that it is going to contradict previous continuity while still ostensibly being a part of it. I also think that of the six Original Series movies, the only one that really lived up to the potential of the series was The Wrath of Khan. Even if you aren't a big fan of Star Trek, you can't really deny that it is a kick-ass movie. Sure, III and VI were decent, I and IV less so, but not bad. There's rumors of a fifth movie, but I'm sure that's all they are is rumors.

So, I'm not sure what to think about the new movie. I do think J.J. Abrams is talented and if anyone is going to pull it off, he can. I was excited about the prospect of Matt Damon playing Kirk. I think he would have been a damn fine James T. Kirk, but alas it won't be him. We'll see.

I've have actually fantasized for a long time about being the lead writer on a Trek TV show that remade The Original Series. As much as I love it, I don't think that TOS ever lived up to its full potential. I would kill to be the lead writer/producer on this show. It would be five seasons, with the broad arc plotted ahead of time, and a healthy mix of one-off episodes and multi-arc stories. It would retain the swashbuckling adventurism and exploration of societal issues that the best episodes had while being brought together into a cohesive whole. Sure it's perfect in my head, but I think I could make it a darn good reality. Are you listening, Paramount?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Titan Pictures

Titan is one of the more famous satellites in our solar system because of the presence of water. Since life as we know it requires water, Titan could be a source of life (not flying saucers and grays, but bacterial life or primitive plants). The Cassini probe has taken some new pictures of Titan. Very cool stuff.

Hellfire and Damnation

I see I'm not the only one who has to deal with stuff like this. My daughters are much better about it than they used to be. There is a lot less tears and saying "You're going to hell" than there ever used to be. Still it is galling to me that my daughters (and other children) are being raised this way. It is psychologically traumatizing for a child to believe that one of their parents is destined for eternal torment. Not to mention that it can put a huge wedge in a relationship. Is that what Jesus would do?

Guns. We Need Lots of Guns.

I caught part of a story on NPR driving home today about an Oregon teacher who wants her school to allow her to carry a gun on campus. She has a conceal-carry permit and is worried about her ex-husband doing her harm and all of the school shootings.

Now, leaving aside the actual argument of whether or not this is a good idea, I want to address one of the arguments she gives for allowing it. It is one I have heard frequently from gun-rights activists. "It's my second amendment right." These people seem to think that because it is a right, there can be no limits on it whatsoever. Unfortunately for them, that is not the case.

Free speech is a right, but we put limits on it. You can't shout "Fire!" in a theater just because. You can't tell deliberate lies about someone or something in a newspaper. I don't think anyone (well, I'm sure there is some nut who would disagree) thinks that these limits are bad. Why should it be different for the right to bear arms. Why shouldn't there be limits on it as well? The teacher in the story dodged the question when she was asked why she should be allowed to bring a gun to school when she couldn't take it into a bank or the federal building. She played the card of "we need to make sure our kids our safe" and "you never know what's going to happen."

Fear has become the basis for far too many decisions in America. I'm not saying we shouldn't take steps to be safe, but I am saying we need to stop making decisions based on "Oh, my God! What if?!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sue Crazy

A cop is suing a family she helped. She assisted in rescuing their one-year-old from a pool. The child survived, but suffered serious brain damage. The cop slipped in a puddle of water in the house (a puddle left by wet people who were trying to rescue the kid) and broke her knee. She is suing the family for "unspecified damages."

Eichhorn's attorney, David Heil, said she now has persistent knee pain and will likely develop arthritis. He said city benefits paid by workers' compensation and some disability checks helped with medical bills, but it wasn't enough. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

"It's a situation where the Cosmillos have caused these problems, brought them on themselves, then tried to play the victim," Heil said.

When is the lawsuit insanity going to end?

Laws Against Helping People

This is appalling. How do people sleep with themselves at night when the pass laws against feeding people, e.g. the homeless. Oh yeah, it's because too many people see the homeless as lazy bums rather than human beings like them who have mental problems or have fallen on very hard times. These people typically don't have support networks. Making it illegal for people to feed them just makes it more difficult for the homeless. Ignoring them isn't going to make the problem go away.

I'm sure my friend, Jeromy, can offer some more thoughts on this as he has done a lot of work with the homeless.

A Couple of Poems

I came into work later than usual yesterday and today giving me a chance to hear The Writer's Almanac on NPR. It is one of my favorite features on that show and they didn't disappoint offering up two great poems.

"They'll" by Cheryl Denise

take your soul
and put it in a suit,
fit you in boxes
under labels,
make you look like the Joneses.

They'll tell you go a little blonder,
suggest sky-blue
tinted contact lenses,
conceal that birthmark
under your chin.

They'll urge you to have babies
get fulfilled.
They'll say marriage is easy,
flowers from Thornhills
are all you need
to keep it together.

They'll push you to go ahead,
borrow a few more grand,
build a dream house.
Your boys need Nikes,
your girls cheerleading,
and all you need is your job
9 to 5 in the same place.

They'll order you never to cry
in Southern States,
and never, ever dance
in the rain.

They'll repeat all the things
your preschool teacher said
in that squeaky too tight voice.

And when you slowly
let them go,
crack your suit,
ooze your soul
in the sun,
when you run through
the woods with your dog,
read poems to swaying cornfields,
pray in tall red oaks,
they'll whisper
and pretend you're crazy.

"The God Who Loves You" by Carl Dennis

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don't want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

This is not good news for those hoping the Supreme Court would put the brakes on the administration's torture policies. They are set to look at a related case involving Gitmo detainees. Maybe this one will have better luck.

Still, it is amazing to me that a president as criticized and unpopular as Bush is still seems to get his way on so many things. Congress can't (or won't) do anything to stop him. The Courts aren't checking his power much. It seems the politicians and judges are split between "torture is a-okay" and "I might get hurt politically if I make a real stand, so I'll just make a lot of noise without doing anything substantial."

George Washington would be proud.

Obama's Religion

Andrew Sullivan has an upcoming essay for the Atlantic dealing with religion in politics which I am looking forward to. Today he gave a brief excerpt from an interview he did with Obama for the piece.

AS: This is I think one of the more (to me at least), the most interesting part of your candidacy. Because we live in a world in which atheism - militant, contemptuous atheism - is on the rise. Religious fundamentalism is clearly the strongest force. Your faith - this thought-through intellectual faith, in many ways, but also a communal faith – is beleaguered, isn’t it?

BO: You know, it doesn't get a lot of play these days. But, you know, reading Niebuhr, or Tillich or folks like that—those are the people that sustain me. What I believe in is overcoming - but not eliminating - doubt and questioning. I don't believe in an easy path to salvation. For myself or for the world. I think that it’s hard work, being moral. It's hard work being ethical. And I think that it requires a series of judgments and choices that we make every single day. And part of what I want to do as president is open up a conversation in which we are honestly considering our obligations - towards each other. And obligations towards the world.

AS: But you don't think we're ever going to be saved on this earth do you?

BO: No. I think it's a ... we're a constant work in progress. I think God put us here with the intention that we break a sweat trying to be a little better than we were yesterday.

Obama's faith comes off as genuine to me from what I have seen of him. Still, the marriage of religion and politics is scary to me and it is worse this campaign season. I think it is great if a politician has a particular set of religious beliefs that guide them in life. I don't think it should be paraded for everyone to see or as a litmus test of whether or not to vote for someone. Don't vote for Romney not because he's Mormon, but because he will say anything to get a vote and wants to "double Guantanamo." On the other hand, don't vote for Obama because he seems to be a good Christian, but because you like or agree with his policies.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

My niece, Alexis, three years old just came into my room. Shawna just bought her a new dress because they are going to visit West Yellowstone where my friend Patrick died in a car wreck last October. We started talking about her dad and had this exchange.

Me: "Patrick was my friend."
Alexis: "He's still your friend."

Yes, he is honey. Yes, he is.

Keychain Love

My daughter, Erica, gave me another keychain last weekend. She made one for me awhile back and I used it, but it broke, and I never got it replaced. Truth be told, I don't really like keychains. I don't like having anything in my pocket, and keychains just make it worse by making my keyring bigger. When I pulled my keys out of my pocket at work today, though, I looked at the keychain and got a big smile on my face. Thinking about Erica making that keychain and the smile on her face as she put it on my keyring and the look she gave me when she handed it to me filled me with so much joy. I don't like keychains, but I love this one as a reminder of her. I wouldn't give it up for anything.

So We Are Moving

My Mom talked to her realtor today. She had been exploring options for my Mom to keep this house or at least be able to purchase another one. Unfortunately neither option is going to happen. My mom can't get approved for a loan high enough to cover the remaining cost of the house and get my brother his equity. What she can get approved for is not enough to get her anything near what she would want.

I imagine it will be very soon. Shawn is desperate to get to Missoula not only to be with his "true love," but because he has it so rough here. *eye roll* He's been telling Shawna that he's got it rough here because he's sleeping in the laundry room with the cat litter box (I offered to give him his room back, but he declined). My cat knocks over his water glass (I've told everyone that it's something he's not going to be broken of, so don't leave 'em lying around). And he "has to" fix the basement bathroom sink (No one asked him to and Mom was going to hire someone to look at it). Shawn is a very unhappy person right now and it's just going to get worse the longer he is here. Of course, he is not self-aware or wise enough to understand that nothing here is making him unhappy, nor is his girlfriend going to make him happy. That comes from within. I just hope he learns that sooner rather than later.

In the mean time, Mom and I have to move. I hate moving because it's such a pain in the ass, but I hate more the pain my mom is feeling right now because of all of this.

Monday, October 8, 2007

It Ain't Easy Being Green

Barack Obama announced his plans today for dealing with global warming, and Matt Yglesias likes the looks of it.

The Uber-Family Circus

I never understood the appeal of The Family Circus. It was never funny or insightful. This is a version of the comic that I could get behind, though. The pairing of Nietzsche's words with Bill Keane's drawings makes for a strip that is actually very amusing.


A church sign I ran across:

"Reason is the greatest enemy faith has."

I don't know where to start. Weren't we given a brain by God? Doesn't it make sense that God would give us something he expects us to use? I suppose "making sense" is a product of reason, so I guess people that put signs up like this don't realize this.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Still Rockin'

It's great to see classic hard rock/heavy metal bands from the 80s coming out of hiding and touring. Somebody needs to show the darn kids these days what good music is.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


I understand "diff'rent strokes fer diff'rent folks" and all that, but sometimes I really wonder. Is this something that this couple will look back fondly on? Will they get misty-eyed thinking about the "magic" of the moment? Will they give each other that "look" while they recount their story of getting married at Wal-Mart to their grandchildren?

Whatever floats their boat, I guess.

Still...Wal-Mart? I feel dirty just driving by one of their stores.

Evangelicals and the Military

I believe that evangelicals end up doing more harm than good to their cause with stunts like this. Attempting to force your beliefs on others or at least making them uncomfortable in their own faith is a travesty and just makes you look like an inconsiderate bully. Yes, atheists do this, too, and it's just as unacceptable then. What ever happened to respect?

Science and Morality

Changes in science and technology come so rapidly anymore that we don't have time to understand the full ramifications of them before we are forced to deal with them.

Tony Frudakis, a molecular biologist, has been doing some groundbreaking work in DNA encoding. With a sample, he can predict someone's race with 99% accuracy, iris color with 96% accuracy, and is close to having accurate prediction of height and skin color. He has used this to help in a few forensic cases which is what he has been developing it for, but business is not booming. Many people are scared of the implications of this and fear it could lead to someone "proving" that one race is superior to another. Even the prosecutor from one of the cases he helped solve is uncomfortable with it.

But even the people one might think should be his biggest allies aren't supporting that, including Tony Clayton, the special prosecutor who tried one of the Baton Rouge murder cases. Clayton, who is black, admits that he initially dismissed Frudakis as some white guy trying to substantiate his racist views. He no longer believes that and says "had it not been for Frudakis, we would still be looking for the white guy in the white pick-up truck." But then he adds, "We've been taught that we're all the same, that we bleed the same blood. If you subscribe to the (Frudakis) theory, you're saying we are inherently unequal."

He continues: "If I could push a button and make this technology disappear, I would."

I understand some of the discomfiture, but I strongly disagree that Frudakis is saying people are unequal. I think his work shows that people are different and that some of those differences can be found in our DNA. The science of our DNA is plunging ahead rapidly and we need to have a national dialogue about it. People need to be educated on the topic to eliminate some of the misconceptions. It's going to go forward whether or not people are comfortable with it or like it, so people need to know what DNA is and what DNA tests can/cannot do in order to form at least somewhat informed opinion.

Another Week, Another Secret


Winter is Coming

We had some snow today. It only hit parts of town and not where I live, but I still was upset. Well, not upset, but certainly not happy. It's supposed to warm back up over the next few days, but it won't last. It's getting back to that time of year. I told a co-worker the other day that I can't wait to be living somewhere where people think it's cold when it's below sixty, it snows every couple of years (maybe) and the town just down because people don't know how to handle it. That sounds nice to me. If I get homesick for snow and cold (*snort*), I can look at pictures.

Dragonlance and the Next Generation

I've been reading the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy to my daughters over the last couple of months. After tonight we have only one chapter left in the first book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. They have been very excited about it, especially Shaena, and are constantly bugging me to read "one more chapter." I first read the series back in junior high and it is an enormous pleasure to share my love of these books with my daughters.

Sometimes I find myself really amazed at the impact a parent has on their children. Sure, most people understand the big things, teaching your children right from wrong and all that good stuff, but it goes down to the smallest things. I've introduced my daughters to Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, and many other things I enjoy. They like these books and movies now, too. If I had never shared these with them, would they even know about them or be interested in them? Will they share them with their kids in the future? It's almost scary thinking about these things. I hear them repeating phrases of mine or espousing opinions of mine (without fully comprehending them) and I just shake my head. There are two lives being shaped like clay in my hands (and their mother's unfortunately). Who am I to have that power?